Flyers fans warming up to team’s new mascot

The Philadelphia Flyers' mascot, Gritty, on the ice during the second intermission of the Flyers preseason NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Monday, Sept, 24, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Tom Mihalek/AP Photo)

The Philadelphia Flyers' mascot, Gritty, on the ice during the second intermission of the Flyers preseason NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Monday, Sept, 24, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Tom Mihalek/AP Photo)

With Bill Cosby’s prison sentence and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing, you may have missed this week’s breaking hockey news out of South Philadelphia.

After four decades without a team mascot, the Flyers introduced the world to Gritty, a 7-foot orange monster that tip-toes the line between creepy and kid-friendly.

It’s caused quite a stir.

Gritty’s googly eyes and unkempt orange beard rocketed into the Twitterverse, inspiring a growing library of memes.

There’s Gritty posing like Kim Kardashian, addressing the United Nations and, on a grimmer note, Gritty clutching the severed heads of Elmo and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street.

On Thursday, he scrapped with comedian Ricky Gervais on The Tonight Show after crashing his two-man dance party with host Jimmy Fallon. Boyz II Men’s “Motown Philly” plays in the room as Fallon tries to break up the fight.

 

At first, Gritty caused a lot of head-scratching.

The Flyers have never really had a mascot. The franchise unveiled Slapshot in 1976 after the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups, but the bespectacled critter was gone after one season.

Now, perhaps because of Gritty’s mischievous, but well-meaning Twitter account, Flyers fans seem to be warming up to the team’s new addition. Even if they don’t all love the way he looks, they can connect to the concept of a tough, yet fun-loving character.

“Philadelphia fans have just always been gritty — the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers. It’s just a tough city to come in as an outside visitor to any of the sports games,” said Steve Carlberg before heading inside the Wells Fargo Center for Thursday’s preseason home game against The New York Rangers.

To Sabrina Cook, Gritty’s name and personality also mesh with the city’s identity off the ice.

“We have a reputation for being a little rough around the edges, but if you meet someone from Philly you know how kind and helpful we are. We just come across as a little tough on the outside,” said Cook.

The Flyers spent roughly four months developing Gritty with the help of David Raymond, a Philly sports legend with an intimate knowledge of mascots.

Raymond creates them full-time as “Emperor of Fun” at Raymond Entertainment. He was also the first Phillie Phanatic, the beloved mascot that’s repped the Philadelphia Phillies for more than 40 years.

He said he’s not surprised so many fans are now embracing Gritty. They quickly embraced the Phanatic, a similarly unorthodox mascot when he made his debut in 1978 – without a marketing campaign or social media to buoy the character.

“No one said, ‘ladies and gentleman, here’s your brand new mascot — a 300-pound, green, furry muppet, the Phillie Phanatic. I just walked out,” said Raymond, at the time a 21-year-old college intern with the organization.

Raymond said Gritty’s growing popularity can also be explained by human nature.

“As far as fans go, every human being can be distracted by fun. And when you’re distracted by fun, and at the same time you’re delivering a message, it’s exceptionally powerful from a marketing standpoint,” said Raymond.

Even when the mascot looks like Gritty?

“He’s ugly, but he’s our ugly,” said Raymond.

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